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Discipline proposal attacks your professionalism


February 22, 2022 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief


In preparing materials for our recent special edition of the ATA News, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into what happened in British Columbia and Ontario when teacher organizations had their professional functions removed. I found the tales remarkably similar and quite interesting.

In British Columbia, in 1987 the Social Credit government, under Premier Bill Vander Zalm, passed two concurrent pieces of legislation, one that established the BC College of Teachers (BCCT) and one that removed principals as members of the bargaining unit within the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF). Teachers were not happy with the legislation and even staged a day of protest against the establishment of the college.

The BCCT did not get off to a good start and failed to gain the respect or confidence of the profession. Ultimately, teachers did not trust it. This improved somewhat over time, but the college often had periods of conflict, challenge and instability. In 2011, the government conducted a review that identified the college as “dysfunctional” and lacking credibility. They then disbanded the college and absorbed all certification and regulation functions into the ministry of education. Where teachers and the BCTF had a more self-governing type role in the BCCT, the new system significantly diminished the role of teachers.

In Ontario, the 1990s brought in a reform-minded, cost-cutting conservative government, as was the case here in Alberta at the time. The Mike Harris PC government struck a royal commission on learning that proposed a number of reforms harmful to the interests of teachers. First among them was an act establishing the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), removing the professional conduct functions from the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF). The next bill went after school boards, attacked collective agreements and provided for noncertificated instructors. Teachers’ unions in Ontario protested, which ended in a 10-day provincewide strike. Because principals, as colleagues in the profession, supported their unions, the government ended up passing legislation to remove them from membership. 

This bundling of proposals to deprofessionalize teacher organizations while also removing principals from the profession was also recommended in Nova Scotia’s 2018 Glaze report and the 2014 report from the Task Force for Teaching Excellence here in Alberta.

So why is it that these two seemingly disparate reforms, are so often packaged together and implemented at or near the same time?

There are two interconnected answers to that. First, they are often used as tools in conflicts between teachers and governments to split up those who dare stand up to government. It is a divide and conquer strategy, where you divide the profession on both the x- and y-axes (split up the functions and split up the membership). These divisions become points of discord among the membership and create internal conflict that the government can then exploit to advance further harmful agendas.

But second, they are part of an ideological view that looks at teachers through a much different lens. This perspective takes the view that teachers are not autonomous professionals. Rather, teachers are subservient workers who need to be controlled, managed and ultimately punished when things go wrong. 

This stark view is also very much on display in our current entanglements over curriculum. The government’s view is that teachers should not have input into what is taught — they should merely be told what is to be taught (and even how to teach it), and they should go teach it. Even the style of curriculum is different. Instead of a curriculum that prescribes outcomes of skills, attributes and competencies that students should be capable of, it’s structured to provide teachers with a long list of facts that students will be expected to absorb and regurgitate, ideally on a standardized test, so you can evaluate which teachers have been successful at inputting that knowledge.

And now, sadly, we also see it foment in hostile online comments toward teachers, patronizing comments that say teachers should “stop whining” and “do their job.” Comments that assert that parents must be the boss and suggest that teachers are brainwashing kids are more and more frequent lately, and they also stem from this ideological, patriarchal view. 

This current fight for our profession might not seem like that big of a deal, but this is what we are talking about when we say a loss on this fight will mean a dramatic shift in the culture of schools and of public education.

Scores of international experts on education have discussed how the culture of collaboration, collegiality and professionalism is a hallmark of Alberta’s outstanding global reputation in education. Sadly, that is all at risk if we don’t protect it now. ❚ 

I welcome your comments. Contact me at

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